Poetic Form: Cento
TypePoetic Term or Form
From the Latin word for "patchwork," the cento (or collage poem) is a poetic form made up of lines from poems by other poets. Though poets often borrow lines from other writers and mix them in with their own, a true cento is composed entirely of lines from other sources. Early examples can be found in the work of Homer and Virgil.
"In the Kingdom of the Past, the Brown-Eyed Man is King
Brute. Spy. I trusted you. Now you reel & brawl.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes—
A vulturous boredom pinned me in this tree
Day after day, I become of less use to myself,
The hours after you are gone are so leaden."
Modern centos are often witty, creating irony or humor from the juxtaposition of images and ideas. Two examples of contemporary centos are "The Dong with the Luminous Nose," by John Ashbery and Peter Gizzi's "Ode: Salute to the New York School." Ashbery's cento takes its title from the poem of the same name by Edward Lear and weaves together an unlikely array of voices, including Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, and Lord Byron. Gizzi employed the form to create a collage of voices, as well as a bibliography, from the New York School poets.